Having watched the horror genre from a young age, it is rare when I find a film truly unsettling. Yes, there are many that can rely on gore, splatter, or body horror to invite a sense of unease, but few capture dread in a way that makes me rethink my daily routine—that is until I watched Door Lock from director Kwon Lee, a unique little film that uses the modern world, isolation, and technology to shocking effect.
Cho Kyung-min (Gong Hyo-jin) is living a solitary existence in Korea. Within her daily routine of working at a bank and making the long trip home, she has built an isolated life for herself. Through this isolation an unknown person has been making himself at home in her apartment, entering when she sleeps through an electronic door lock. As she starts to realize something is not right and tries to take action, the safe existence she thought she was living slowly crumbles away.
Door Lock is a film that plays with the inherent fears we all have, using isolation, paranoia, and technology to striking effect. When the tools we rely on to keep us safe are used as an entryway into our lives, the results are shockingly visceral. Throughout watching the film, I questioned my own safety, whether or not locks really work, and to what extent someone would go if they did have access to my life. The subtle tone and cold realism used by director Kwon Lee works to evoke the fragility of the notion that safety is possible in modern interconnected society.
Kong Hyo-jin portrays the slow descent into paranoia masterfully well. Even watching via subtitles, the slow breakdown of her calm facade comes through masterfully. As the truth of her situation is made clear and she desperately tries to find help, the menace from every man in her life quickly becomes apparent. From the police to her coworkers, the use of sexism as a threat helps paint a dark picture of a society that only pretends to care about the people within it.
As the film progresses, the descent into madness and the crushing reality of vulnerability becomes even more apparent. Through the use of lighting and set design, the isolated nature of the modern world is painted in stark, brutal clarity. The streets and buildings of South Korea are portrayed with a near sterile level of coldness that puts into contrast the human struggle that rests just beyond their walls.
The Fantasia Festival this year has had some truly fantastic films, and Door Lock is on my personal best of the show list so far. It gets under your skin, making you question the artifice of safety. The bleak realism crafts a world that feels familiar and horrific at the same time. Anyone who loves suspense, thrillers, or just enjoys a film that invokes a sense of unease needs to give Door Lock a watch.